Skip to main content

Engagement with China: FAQ

Research, teaching, and other activities in China have recently come under increased scrutiny, especially with regard to potential intellectual property theft at U.S. universities. In response, various U.S. federal government agencies have promulgated new requirements pertaining to the interactions between U.S. universities and entities in China. Separately, China has introduced new laws and regulations that impact faculty engagement in and with China.

Table of Contents:

It is important that this increased scrutiny over foreign activities in federally sponsored research does not result in a chilling effect on Cornell’s existing and future international collaborations and research. We do not condone threats to academic freedom or discrimination against any person based on ethnicity or national origin. As President Pollack affirmed in a recent opinion piece, Cornell is an international university with a strong commitment to global engagement, an appreciation of intercultural differences, and a spirit of collaboration for mutual benefit. We are a diverse community of students, researchers, and faculty representing over 90 countries.

The information contained herein has been prepared by the Offices of Sponsored Programs, the Office of the Vice Provost for International Affairs, and the Office of the University Counsel (in consultation with external legal counsel), and is designed in a comprehensive Q&A format to assist Cornell faculty and staff in navigating the often-complex issues surrounding engagements with China.

Travel

Can I travel to China to give a talk or attend a conference?

Yes, as long as you have received a Chinese visa prior to departure.[1] If you decide to go, take into consideration:

  • It is perfectly legal to share fundamental research[2] results in China or with a Chinese national; however, proprietary, confidential, or controlled information may not be released.[3]
  • Per best practices, Cornell’s Export Control Officer should complete a restricted party screening for the entity or individual with which you plan to engage (click on the link for information and to contact the ECO, Sarah Schlagter). This can be done quickly should not pose a burden on hosts.
  • Cornell recommends that individuals traveling to China use loaner laptops and mobile devices, and leave other devices at home. See High-Risk Travel Loaner Program for more details. (Never travel to China with a device that contains proprietary, confidential, or controlled information.)
  • For expedited access to critical travel support services, Cornell recommends that faculty traveling to China register their Cornell-related travel in the Cornell Travel Registry. (If you are traveling with students, you are required to register their Cornell-related travel.)
  • Cornell China Center’s website provides additional China-specific resources, support services and contacts in China.

What else should I be aware of if I travel to China?

There are U.S. and China-specific matters to keep in mind:

  • On January 3, 2019, the U.S. State Department renewed its enhanced travel advisory for travelers to China, cautioning U.S. citizens to “exercise increased caution to China due to arbitrary enforcement of local laws…” The travel advisory also warned: “U.S. citizens may be detained without access to U.S. consular services or information about their alleged crime. U.S. citizens may be subjected to prolonged interrogations and extended detention for reasons related to ‘state security.’ Security personnel may detain and/or deport U.S. citizens for sending private electronic messages critical of the Chinese government.”[4]
  • Faculty traveling to China on official Cornell business do so as representatives of the university, and are therefore subject Cornell to China’s “Foreign NGO Law,”[5] which regulates “the activities in the mainland of China of all overseas NGOs.”[6] In accordance with the provisions of the Law, faculty may engage in undertakings of benefit to the public in the areas of the economy, education, science, culture, health, sports, and environmental protection, as well as in the areas of poverty and disaster relief. Conducting work in collaboration with Chinese universities can mitigate the need for special registrations that are typically required under the Law. Those who plan on conducting official Cornell business in China, but are not working with a Chinese university collaborator, should consult with Global Operations.
  • Faculty who spend extended periods in China (generally 183 days or more in aggregate within a 365-day period) may be subject to Individual Income Tax on income earned in China. Prior coordination and tax planning are required to take advantage of any available exemptions. Global Operations can connect faculty to support resources if required.
  • Review the Export Controls and International Travel page for guidance on items you wish to bring with you.

Shipments

Can I ship items to China?

Maybe. All shipments to China must first be cleared by Cornell’s Export Control Office. The Export Control Officer will review the items you want to ship, determine if a license is needed, apply for the license (if required), and conduct a screening on the end-user. Review the Export Controls Shipping page for more information.

Collaborations and Services

Can I share my research with a Chinese institution?

It depends. Only the non-physical (information, data, etc.) results of “fundamental research” may be shared.[7]  

Your research meets the definition of “non-physical results of fundamental research” if it meets ALL of the following criteria: 

  1. The research is not subject to any dissemination controls (i.e., it can be widely published);
  2. The research is not subject to pre-publication approval by the sponsor;
  3. The research is not labeled as proprietary or confidential;
  4. No citizenship requirements were imposed on the research; and
  5.  The research is conducted at an accredited institution of higher education in the United States (only applicable in certain cases such as military applications).

Can I collaborate with a research group that includes Chinese scholars? What if we generate new ideas and technology?

Yes, you may definitely collaborate, but only on non-controlled fundamental research projects. If you are collaborating, please keep in mind:

  • The results of fundamental research may be shared with Chinese scholars.
  • No proprietary, confidential, or controlled information may be shared.[8]
  • New intellectual property must first be disclosed to Cornell’s Center for Technology Licensing (CTL). CTL will advise as to the appropriate next steps and any additional disclosures.
  • All collaborations should be done under a formal arrangement between Cornell and the Chinese entity, to ensure that that the individual researchers and Cornell’s intellectual property rights are preserved. The appropriate individuals in the offices listed below will negotiate intellectual property terms that are consistent with Cornell’s policy:​
  • Cornell’s policy on intellectual property should be adhered to.
  • Collaborations are likely to require disclosures on most federal grant applications. Consult with your Grant and Contract Officer to understand when the collaboration will need to be disclosed, and any potential implications.

Does China have any laws or regulations that govern the import and export of IP and/or technology?

Yes, there are various Chinese laws and regulations that govern the import and export of intellectual property and technologies into and out of China. Specifically, the “Outbound IP Transfer Measures,” (passed March 2018[9]) broadly regulate the transfers of intellectual property outside of China, including:

  • direct technology exports;
  • foreign acquisitions of a domestic Chinese entity containing such intellectual property;
  • other forms of transactions that may result in an outbound transfer of intellectual property (such as a change in ownership of the intellectual property); and
  • patent rights, exclusive rights in integrated circuit layout designs, computer software copyrights, and new agricultural plant variety rights.

These Measures allow Chinese government authorities to conduct a security assessment on any outbound transfer of IP and its potential impact on Chinese national security and technological innovation. It is our understanding that the security assessment will be conducted by the local relevant administrative authority (likely the local offices of the Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Science and Technology), in conjunction with the competent local authority with oversight of the particular type of intellectual property which is the subject of the proposed transfer.

There are still a lot of questions around these new Measures. The Global Operations team, in coordination with the Office of General Counsel, is monitoring developments and will update this document as we learn more.

To avoid any unintended surprises down the road, it is important to carefully review the scope and nature of any Cornell research or external consulting activity, including your use of any data, materials, technologies, or intellectual property gathered and/or developed in the course of external engagement, prior to actually commencing work in China.

Are there any restrictions on publication or disclosure of research or data from China?

Yes, the Measures for the Management of Scientific Data (MMSD), passed on March 17, 2018, regulates any and all individuals and/or entities who are engaged in activities related to scientific data[10] within the PRC, regardless of nationality. All activities related to or including collecting, generating, processing, open sharing, and managing and using scientific data supported by Chinese government funding (including research centers and institutions of higher education) are subject to the MMSD.

The MMSD prohibits the open sharing and public disclosure of scientific data involving state secrets, national security, public interests, trade secrets, and public privacy. The MMSD did not define or provided additional guidance on the meaning of broad sweeping terms such as “state secrets,” “national security,” “public interests,” “trade secrets,” and “public privacy,” thereby leaving the interpretation of such terms to the discretionary powers of the local authorities.

Although the Measures have technically gone into effect, it is unclear to what extent they are being implemented. Nevertheless, there are concerns that it may restrict publication, disclosure, and (in some cases) even ownership of certain research or data if it is supported in whole or in part by Chinese public funding (broadly defined, including universities and, in some cases, “private” Chinese companies).[11] Some of the MMSD provisions may also be in conflict with existing Cornell policies on publication rights and academic freedom.

To proactively address any unanticipated roadblocks, we recommend that:

  • Cornell faculty members who are engaged in Cornell research or personal consulting activities in China or with a Chinese entity, including universities and research centers, closely monitor this matter to understand how their own data is affected and how, if at all, the Chinese government is or will be interpreting and enforcing the provisions of the Measures.

Is there a way to guarantee data protection?

No, however, the following steps can help mitigate the risks:

  • Cornell recommends that individuals traveling to China use loaner laptops and mobile devices, and leave other devices at home. See the High-Risk Travel Program page for more details.
  • Utilize CRADC when working with restricted research data.
  • Work with IT@Cornell to ensure data is adequately protected.

What restrictions am I subject to if I receive U.S. federal funding?

In recent months, several federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the U.S. Departments of Defense (DoD) and Energy (DoE), have expressed growing concerns about foreign influence on the integrity of research conducted in or for U.S. institutions. Increased scrutiny of China’s activities in the U.S. has been the main focus of this concern.

Federal funding agencies are providing increased guidance and scrutiny on the requirement to report foreign components[12] on grants. Please bear in mind:

  • As has always been the case, though subject to greater scrutiny now, all international activities and collaborations related to federally funded research, as well as all outside appointments, externally provided in-kind resources and external sources of support must be disclosed on your application and proposal. If the activity arises after the funding is awarded, consult with your Grant and Contract Officer prior to engaging in the activity to ensure proper notification and approval.
  • Foreign components (defined in footnote 12) need prior approval on NIH grants.
  • The restrictions will vary by agency and grant, so you should consult with your Grant and Contract Officer to understand what restrictions apply to your particular activity and grant.

Can I hire Chinese nationals to work on my Federal Government Sponsored grant? What if I hire them after the grant has been awarded?

  • Any lab personnel (e.g. students, postdocs, or scholars) who are supported by a foreign entity either through salary, stipend, or receipt of living or travel expenses will likely need to be disclosed to the sponsoring entity — whether they are hired before or after the grant has been awarded. Consult with your Grant and Contract Officer (GCO) to understand when the appointment will need to be disclosed, and any potential implications.
  • Foreign (including Chinese) students and postdocs who do not receive any foreign support can most likely work on your grant; however, if the appointment is made after the grant has been awarded, you should check with your GCO to ensure that no other restrictions (such as workforce development related citizenship restrictions or export control limitations) apply.

Can I recruit students from China to graduate programs in my department?

Yes, but as with any appointment, care should be taken to ensure that proper hiring procedures are adhered to and that no proprietary, confidential, or controlled information is disclosed in violation of export control regulations or non-disclosure agreement terms.

Can I advise a PhD student who is enrolled in a doctoral program in China?

Yes, however no proprietary, confidential, or controlled information may be disclosed in violation of export control regulations or non-disclosure agreement terms. You may discuss the results of fundamental research.

Can I host visitors from China?[13]

Yes, but the following precautions should be taken when hosting any visitors, not just those from China:

  • Records should be kept of the visitor’s name, affiliation, date, and purpose of the visit.[14]
  • All visitors and their current affiliation should be run through a restricted party screening (contact the Export Control Office) prior to agreeing to the visit
  • Visitors cannot have access to any proprietary, confidential, or controlled information. Ensure that any such information is in a secure location to which the visitor will not have access.
  • All formal appointments must follow unit-specific human resources procedures.

What if I have researchers from China (on J-1 visas, for example) working in my lab?

We welcome Chinese researchers on campus. Per best practices, care should be taken to ensure that no proprietary, confidential, or controlled information is disclosed in violation of export control regulations or non-disclosure agreement terms.

What if I am offered access to a Chinese postdoc to work in my lab, funded by the Chinese government?

The opportunity should be reviewed for any “foreign talent program” (see below) implications or issues. If you decide to move forward with the funding opportunity:

  • All post-doc appointments should be screened through your local human resources department.
  • Care should be taken to ensure that no proprietary, confidential, or controlled information is disclosed in violation of export control regulations or non-disclosure agreement terms.

How do I know if I, or anyone in my research or teaching group, is part of a Chinese “foreign talent program”? How can I avoid it?

One or more of the following terms found in an agreement or other contractual documents may indicate a talent program:

  • Requirement that you or someone in your group spend time in China.
  • Requirement to set up a lab in China or to assist in setting up a lab in China.
  • Limitations on who can be hired in your lab, regardless of location.
  • Requirement to hire or mentor students from China or elsewhere.
  • Requirements to file patents or otherwise commercialize intellectual property in China.
  • Confidentiality or secrecy requirements.
  • Intellectual property ownership defined in accordance with Chinese law

Although the federal government has not provided concrete guidance on their definition of a “foreign talent program,” any questionable terms should be carefully reviewed by either your personal attorney, The Office of University Counsel, your Grant and Contract Officer, and/or the Export Control Office, depending on the situation.

Can I invite Chinese scholars to a workshop I am holding in the U.S.?

Yes, of course, but the following precautions should be taken when hosting any visitors, not just those from China:

  • Records should be kept of all attendees’ names and affiliations;
  • If the workshop will involve lab access, the attendees and their current affiliation should be run through a restricted party screening (contact your local human resources representative or the Export Control Office) prior to formal invitations being sent; and
  • Attendees cannot have access to any proprietary, confidential, or controlled information.

Can I …organize a workshop in China? …provide revenue-generating trainings in China?

Most likely, but keep in mind:

  • See the “Travel” FAQ above.
  • No proprietary, confidential, or controlled information may be shared.[15]
  • It is ideal to collaborate with a Chinese university to co-host the events or trainings.
  • If you’re engaged in revenue-generating activities on the ground in China, and not working directly with or through a Chinese university, Cornell’s Wholly-Foreign Owned Enterprise (WFOE) must contract directly with the Chinese company or organization. Contact Global Operations for more details.
  • The Cornell China Center may be able to assist with organizing and hosting events. Contact Global Operations for more details.
  • If conducting personal consulting, see the “Private Consulting and Teaching Time” section below.

Private Consulting and Teaching Time

Can I …teach at a Chinese institution and get paid? …consult for private companies? …work with a Chinese corporation? …have a paid appointment at a Chinese institution?

Probably. Per Cornell’s personal consulting policy, Chinese labor law, and other best practices, certain precautions should be adhered to:

  • Contact Cornell’s Export Control Officer to ensure that a restricted party screening is done on the individual or entity you plan to engage with and all potential risks are discussed.
  • Faculty must inform their department Chair in accordance with the policies and procedures of their respective unit or department.
  • Any contracts entered into should make clear that the faculty is providing services in an individual capacity. Faculty do not have any authority to represent Cornell or enter into contracts in Cornell’s name.
  • Faculty should be clear that any opinions expressed in work with the Chinese institution are their own, and do not express the positions of Cornell University.
  • Faculty must not sign consulting, facility access, non‐disclosure, or confidentiality agreements containing terms that conflict with the faculty’s obligation to Cornell (e.g., with respect to intellectual property).
  • Cornell letterhead, name, or other identification must not be used to imply University support.
  • Faculty may not use University resources to conduct or support their appointment.
  • All appointments and activities must be reported in accordance with Cornell’s conflict of interest procedures.
  • You will have to disclose any formal appointments when you apply for federal funding in the future. Consult with your Grant and Contract Officer to understand when the appointment will need to be disclosed, and any potential implications.
  • Faculty who spend extended periods in China (generally 183 days or more) may be subject to Individual Income Tax on income earned in China. Prior coordination and tax planning are required to take advantage of any available exemptions. Global Operations can connect faculty to support resources if requested.

Additional Resources

 

[1] Find more information about applying for a Chinese visa here.

[2] Fundamental research is defined as basic and applied research in science and engineering that is ordinarily published and shared broadly within the scientific community

[3] Without prior approval by the Export Control Officer and receipt of any required licenses

[4] “China Travel Advisory,” United States Department of State, January 3, 2019, available at:  https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/china-travel-advisory.html.

[5] Law of the People’s Republic of China on Administration of Activities of Overseas Nongovernmental Organizations in the Mainland of China, Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, promulgated April 28, 2016, effective January 1, 2017, official English version available at: http://www.mps.gov.cn/n2254314/n2254409/n4904353/c5548987/content.html

[6] China considers Cornell an “Overseas NGO” or “Foreign NGO”

[7] Without prior approval by the Export Control Officer and receipt of any required licenses

[8] Without prior approval by the Export Control Officer and receipt of any required licenses

[9] General Office of the State Council, Working Measures on the Outbound Transfer of Intellectual Property (for Trial Implementation), March 18, 2018, available at: http://www.gov.cn/zhengce/content/2018-03/29/content_5278276.htm.

[10] The Measures define the term “scientific data” broadly. According to Article 2, the term encompasses (1) data generated through basic research, applied research, pilot development testing, and other research activities; and (2) raw and derivative data obtained through observation, monitoring, surveys, investigation, inspection, testing, and “other methods” that is intended to be used for scientific research. This definition would appear to cover a broad spectrum of data types as disparate as biochemical lab testing results, computational models, raw weather data, and records of clinical trials.

[11] General Office of the State Council, Measures on the Management of Scientific Data, effective March 17, 2018, available at: http://www.gov.cn/zhengce/content/2018-04/02/content_5279272.htm (English summary here: http://english.www.gov.cn/policies/latest_releases/2018/04/02/content_281476099479814.htm)

[12] Foreign components refer to the performance of any significant scientific element or segment of a project outside of the United States, either by the recipient or by a researcher employed by a foreign organization, whether or not grant funds are expended.

[13] The U.S. government requires Chinese diplomats to notify the State Department before any meetings they plan on having with educational and research institutions.

[14] Colleges and schools may have additional protocols for hosting visitors. Unit-specific human resource office should be consulted.

[15] Without prior approval by the Export Control Officer and receipt of any required licenses